Chairwoman Lowey Farewell Remarks to House Appropriations Committee

2020-07-15 09:00

Video, via C-SPAN, of Chairwoman Lowey’s farewell remarks is available here

WASHINGTON — House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey delivered the following farewell remarks to the Committee on the final day of markups for the 116th Congress:

Good morning, everyone. As we begin our final day of consideration of the FY21 spending bills, I’d like to thank you all for your kind words and well wishes and ask you to indulge me in just a few more reflections.

I came to Congress in 1989, one of just 31 women in the House and Senate, and to this Committee in 1993 alongside only six other women on the 64-member panel.

This body is better for the 100 women serving in the 116th Congress and for the many women in this room today. It’s my honor to address the full Committee for my final time as the first woman Chair.

You know, it’s ironic that back in 1993, I had to choose between serving on Appropriations or Ways and Means. And today we mark up my final Appropriations bills in the Ways and Means Committee room.

I chose Appropriations because I believed it was the best place to give more people a better chance at a better life. After nearly 30 years on Committee, I still believe that.

In fact, nowhere else in Congress could I have advanced such a diverse range of priorities. In the days of congressionally directed spending – something I hope you all restore – I brought home hundreds of millions to help my constituents directly, from transportation hubs and commuter services, bridge and road safety, early learning and health centers, to economic development and job training, school safety, senior centers, flooding relief, and more.

Of course, without those projects, I have created new programs, including one that protects vulnerable nonprofits at a time of rising anti-Semitism and hate, like those in my district surrounding the community that experienced a tragic attack at a Hanukah party last year.

Nationally, we advanced the .08 blood alcohol content standard for drunk driving that has saved countless lives. Following September 11th, we funded the new Department of Homeland Security, and I have fought hard for New York’s fair share of its investments in our preparedness and response capabilities.

I am so proud of tremendous accomplishments for women’s health – from protecting and expanding access to family planning here and abroad, to gains in research equity and breast cancer research and securing contraceptive coverage for federal employees that led to dramatically expanded coverage for women today. And, let me just say, we will never go back to the days when NIH excluded women from clinical trials – when even the lab rats were all male.

Among many education achievements, we established the first federal afterschool programs that have grown to a billion dollar investment today and served millions of children and families. And, it was certainly fun to bring Bert and Ernie to a hearing to help save PBS’s federal funding.

Despite my passion for these priorities, I bucked conventional wisdom to become Ranking Member on the State and Foreign Operations subcommittee rather than the Labor-HHS-Education subcommittee. I cannot overstate my commitment to our responsible investments through our foreign aid bill that make the world better, safer, and healthier while improving the security of generations here at home.

At the heart of that work is providing a basic education to the world’s children so that they may thrive and prosper, be healthier and resilient to dangerous influences, and create a more stable world. So what a moving and rewarding honor it was to have my dear friends Ranking Member Granger and Ranking Member Rogers recognize my work on international basic education by naming that program for me last week in the State and foreign operations markup.

While my time as the Chairwoman of this Committee has been short, our achievements together will have a lasting impact.

Despite our differences and disagreements, or perhaps because of them, we ultimately recognize that the power of the purse – one of the most important entrusted to us by the Constitution – requires us to build consensus and put the interests of the American people first.

I took the Appropriations gavel in January 2019, in the middle of the longest partial government shutdown in U.S. history.

Not only did we reach bipartisan agreement to reopen government, we cleared all 12 fiscal year 2020 appropriations bills through committee and 10 off the House floor before the Senate introduced a single bill, and we enacted all 12 before the end of the calendar year.

As appropriators, we lead by example, with common sense and deliberation. 

Our ability to transcend party differences and make hard choices within the constraints of limited funding makes us worthy of the privilege to hash out the biggest battles of the day.

Through virtual and remote work and in masks and gloves today, this Committee is confronting twin crises – one most of us never expected, the other only the willfully indifferent could not have anticipated.

In recent months, we have led the way to invest trillions to stem the spread of a global pandemic and mitigate the worst of its devastating economic impacts.

The fiscal year 2021 appropriations bills continue those efforts even as we address systemic racism, a crisis that has reached a boiling point in recent weeks.

We have acted on the urgent need for meaningful police reform and economic development in disadvantaged communities that is fundamental to a more just and equitable society that lives up to our highest values and aspirations.

We are living through a time of heightened cynicism and polarization, of suffering and pain, and great uncertainty, with too little compassion and leadership from some at the highest levels of power.

The old adage you might have heard me say a time or two – that in Washington there are Republicans, Democrats, and appropriators – is perhaps more important now than ever.

My parting request to you is this: do not succumb to the pervasive partisanship that permeates what can feel like all aspects of our professional – and even sometimes our personal - lives.

Beyond keeping government’s doors open and lights on, conduct robust oversight and demand accountability and transparency on the use of taxpayer dollars, defend our constitutional prerogatives against Executive Overreach regardless of who occupies the White House or the Speaker’s office. Always strive to use the power of the purse to unlock the full potential of this nation. 

Over the next weeks and months, I will continue that hard work with all of you, who are at the heart of what makes this the best Committee in Congress. If you’re looking for a goodbye gift, I would love to get all our bills done by the end of the year.

To the other members leaving Congress at the end of this term – my fellow New Yorker and dear friend Jose Serrano, Pete Visclosky, Tom Graves, Martha Roby, and Will Hurd – thank you for your service, and I wish you all the very best.

To my subcommittee chairs – Marcy, Pete, José, Rosa, David, Lucille, Sanford, Betty, Tim, Debbie, and Mike – you have made your mark not just on your bills and on this Committee. Thank you for your steady, effective leadership and friendship.

Kay, I could not ask for a better Ranking Member. We took turns as Chair and Ranking Member on State and Foreign Operations and have shown time and again that women get things done. I will deeply miss our partnership and you personally.

I would be remiss not to mention former Committee Chairs Natcher, Livingston, Young, Lewis, Obey, Rogers, and Frelinghuysen who showed me what it takes to do this job well.

None of us could fulfill our mandate without the support of excellent staff. All of the successes I’ve recounted today and more are also the achievements of many others.

To the staff in both the Committee and my Congressional office: For a year and a half as Chairwoman, six years as Ranking Member – and for some, a whole lot longer – I have benefitted immeasurably from your wisdom, counsel, tireless commitment, and, on more than a few occasions, from your technological prowess.

One of the benefits of being chair is having the largest and most experienced staff on the Hill. From all of our subcommittee staff led by clerks Martha Foley, Bob Bonner, Becky Leggieri, Jaime Shimek, Matt Smith, Darek Newby, Rita Culp, Stephen Steigleder, Robin Juliano, Matt Washington, Lisa Molyneux, Steve Marchese, and Joe Carlile to Adam Berg, Jason Gray, Adam Wilson, Tom Tucker, Anna Hansen, Mike Burns, Gloria Nlewedim, and Malachi White in the front office, I am grateful for everything you do to make this the best committee in Congress.

My Congressional office staff in Washington, including Fae Rabin, Wendy Coursen, Liz Gauthier, Jane Richter, Matt Pastore, Steve Brenner, and Justin Barnes, have been invaluable during my final appropriations markups, as always.

I especially note my gratitude for the extraordinary work of several staffers with whom I work most closely: Staff Director and Clerk Shalanda Young, Deputy Staff Director Chris Bigelow – an alum of my personal office, Communications Director Evan Hollander, Legislative Director Dana Acton, Deputy Chief of Staff Kelly Healton, and my Chief of Staff for the last 15 years, Elizabeth Stanley.

I appreciate the great contributions of former staff, including chiefs of staff – Scott Fleming, Howard Wolfson, Matthew Traub and Clare Coleman – and legislative teams led by Jim Townsend, Mark Isaac, Jenny Luray, Heather Howard, Beth Tritter, and Jean Doyle. At the committee, I valued the expertise of former Staff Director David Pomerantz, Deputy Staff Director Lesley Turner, and Communications Director Matt Dennis who also served in my personal office.

I have enjoyed seeing so many current and former staffers grow in your careers, get married, have children, and even some of you retire before me.  You will always be a part of the Lowey family.

It has been the honor of my life to serve as Chairwoman of this committee. While I’ll be sad to hand over the gavel, I know that all of us – members and staff - will live by the underlying principle that has guided our work together: do the best we can to make life better for the most people we can.

Thank you.


116th Congress